Stipe Miocic regained his place at the top of the heavyweight division with a thrilling fourth round stoppage of Daniel Cormier in the UFC 241 headliner in Anaheim.
The Cleveland native earned a TKO victory to avenge his loss from UFC 226 over thirteen months ago.
Cormier had the better of things until that point, but could not contend with a change in Miocic’s tactics, and a vicious right hand.
Earlier in the night, the co-main event saw a return to the Octagon for Nate Diaz after a three-year hiatus.
He showed no effects of the lengthy break as he downed Anthony Pettis in a resounding unanimous decision win.
Paulo Costa moved to 13-0 in the middleweight division following a fight of the night with Yoel Romero. There were fireworks from the start as the pair traded relentlessly for 15 minutes, but it was the Brazilian’s pace and willingness to come forward that scored him the win.
The California card also saw victories for the explosive Sodiq Yusuff, Derick Brunson and Cory Sanghagen.
Here are the key talking points.
Work the body
Heading into the fourth round, Miocic needed something special if he was going to prize the heavyweight title from the grasp of Cormier.
DC was arguably three rounds ahead, having manhandled him in the first, and found his target with the hands with alarming regularity from then on – closing distance and nullifying Stipe’s long-range weapons.
The champ had been chastised by his corner for not sticking to the game plan, which was obviously to try and wrestle the life out of Miocic, but he was still in firm control.
Stipe threatened to establish himself early in the third with some solid jabs from range, but again Cormier would do enough to win it, closing the gap and being able to stay in the pocket.
However, he would have no answer for the change up in the fourth, with Miocic switching to ripping left hooks into the body that clearly took their toll.
The old adage of working the body to open up the head came to fruition with a minute of the round to go as another left found a home in Cormier’s ribs before two rights up top finished the contest.
It was a masterful change in approach from Miocic, while Cormier will be left ruing the fact he didn’t take his wrestling dominance from round one further into the fight.
Normally, we would be looking for a trilogy to see who would get bragging rights for these two greats, but with Cormier and Miocic things feel a little different.
At 40, Cormier has a lot of other opportunities available to him both in and out of MMA, and you really question now if he has the desire to go on.
A win here could have set up another showdown with Jon Jones, but there is certainly no appetite for that now.
For Miocic, another fight with DC would bring him the best pay day the heavyweight division can offer. Otherwise, he is likely to face a resurgent Francis Ngannou – a man he schooled at the start of last year.
Diaz doesn’t miss a beat
Diaz said he had been out of the Octagon for three years because there wasn’t anyone for him to fight – if his performance against Anthony Pettis was anything to go by, they won’t exactly be lining up to face him now.
With no sign of ring rust, the Stockton slugger, hunted down Pettis for a dominant 15 minutes. After the fight he called out Jorge Masvidal – a fight that would be a huge amount of fun, but you can’t imagine Conor McGregor’s name will be out of this conversation for too long.
The two have one win apiece from their two fights to date and a rubber match would certainly pull in the audience.
Masvidal has the right to claim to a welterweight title shot and may want to head down that route before taking on Diaz.
Counting the Costa
When the two most physical specimens the middleweight division has to offer clash you expect fireworks, and Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero did not disappoint.
Despite the lop-sided scorecards, it was Romero who landed the most significant head strikes, while the Brazilian had more success to the body and certainly pushed the pace of the fight. The reaction by the crowd to the result said a lot.
Costa may think his 13-0 record now opens the door to a title shot, but this is by far his biggest win to date and he may still need another victory to secure a tilt at either Robert Whittaker or Israel Adesanya who meet in Melbourne in October.
A 42-year-old Romero has now lost three of his last four but the Soldier of God shows no sign of slowing down just yet.
A rematch won’t happen, but nobody would complain if it did.
Abu Dhabi, get ready
We are now just three weeks away from UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi – the next showpiece event in the company’s calendar.
Headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier for the undisputed lightweight crown, September 7 is going to be spectacular.
If you’re not excited, you should be.
Conor McGregor is eyeing a UFC return with the outcome of the UFC 242 main event in Abu Dhabi critical to the route he takes.
Current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Dustin Poirier in the September 7 showpiece with McGregor ready to put his name back in the frame.
In today’s post-UFC 240 press conference, UFC president Dana White confirmed he had been in touch with the Notorious one, and seeing him in the cage in the not too distant future is a real prospect.
“Yeah, I talked to him last week. He wants to come back,” said White.
“Really what he’s doing is he’s looking to see how everything plays out in September. I was just saying out there that as of right now, Khabib and [Dustin] Poirier are fighting. You know how this business works – anything can happen and it usually does.
“So I think he’s just waiting to see how it all plays out, and does he have an opportunity somewhere to jump in and make something happen.”
A win for Nurmagomedov would put McGregor out of the title picture in the short term as Tony Ferguson is next in line for a shot at the Russian.
Should Poirier take the gold, then the Irishman could force his way into a shot against the American – but again Ferguson would have plenty to say about that.
Failing those options, a rubber match against Nate Diaz could also be on the cards. The two have one win apiece and following their high profile, high octane bouts in the past there would be an appetite for a decider. Diaz takes on Anthony Pettis next month at 155lbs so would likely be able to fight again before the end of the year.
Another option would be a move to 170lbs, or a catchweight, to fight either Donald Cerrone or Jorge Masvidal.
A bout with Cerrone has been touted in the past but at 155, while Masvidal is a hot property now following his record breaking KO of Ben Askren and would jump at the chance to take on McGregor – pending a title shot at 170lbs.
Cerrone would be the more attractive of these options, but ideally back down at 155.
Featherweight king Max Holloway scored a unanimous decision win over Frankie Edgar to retain his title and standing as the greatest 145lb-er in UFC history.
‘Blessed’ dominated from the outset using his superior reach to keep the shorter man at distance, finding a home for his razor sharp jab with unerring ease.
Edgar was his usual tenacious self but rarely troubled the Hawaiian, seeing 12 of his 13 attempts at a takedown stunted by the champion.
Holloway has now won 14 of his last 15 fights in the UFC with his only loss in that run happening on his sole foray up to 155lbs – when he lost to Abu Dhabi-bound Dustin Poirier.
Edgar, 23-7, insisted after the fight his career is not over, but having lost two of his last three, a move down to bantamweight may well be on the cards.
Elsewhere Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino got back in the win column with a hard-fought victory over a game Felicia Spencer, and Geoff Neal continued his unbeaten UFC run.
Here are the main takeaways from UFC 240 in Edmonton.
We are Blessed to have Max
In Max Holloway, we are witnessing a once-in-a-generation fighter in the 145lbs division. The way in which he has ripped through the entire division so far has been as clinical as it has brutal.
Edgar is the first man to take him the distance at this weight since 2016, with standouts Anthony Pettis, Jose Also, twice, and Brian Ortega all falling victim to the hands of Holloway.
The way in which he dismantled Ortega, the only man to ever stop Edgar, was particularly impressive.
Last night’s performance, which took Holloway to 21-4, was very different, but equally impressive – negating any offence ‘The Answer’ mounted, while showcasing his hands once again. A height advantage plus speed and accuracy creates an intriguing puzzle, one that will taking some solving for anyone attempting to in the future.
The natural next step would be to take on Alexander Volkanovski – himself on a 17-fight win streak, with seven of those coming in the UFC.
The Australian is ranked number one in the division behind Holloway and has taken the scalps of Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes in his last two outings.
Beyond that fifth-ranked Zabit Magomedsharipov has won his last thirteen, including five in the UFC. Three of his UFC wins have come via submission, and the Russian would offer Holloway a very different challenge.
Cyborg is back – but for how long?
Cris Cyborg showed no ill effects of her defeat to Amanda Nunes as she scored a unanimous decision over a very game Felicia Spencer.
The Brazilian looked in fine form on the feet landing with ease, but unable to find the finish we have seen so often in the past. Credit here goes to the American who showed phenomenal durability and heart to see out the full 15 minutes.
Spencer also became the first person to cut Cyborg when she landed an elbow in the first round, but was never able to impose her will and takes things to the mat.
The big question now is whether we will see a rematch between Cyborg and Amanda Nunes.
Both fighters want the bout, but it will now come down to financial and contractual wrangling with the UFC.
It’s not new to hear Cyborg being at odds with the UFC, but for her to try and avenge one of only two losses on her record then a new contract with the organisation needs to be in place.
A few years ago, she would have held most of the bargaining chips but now at the age of 34, with a convincing loss to Nunes, and a division lacking in any kind of depth you have to wonder how much the UFC is willing to spend on keeping her in their ranks.
170lbs division keeps getting deeper
Much has been said about 28-year-old Geoff Neal and his ‘Handz of Steel’, and the hype train will continue after this latest showing against Niko Price.
Rocked in the first round, Neal was able to recover, and then finish his man following a wild exchange at the start of the second – which ended up with both men on the canvas.
With four wins in the UFC, including a submission, head kick knockout and this latest TKO, Neal is certainly entertaining but in one of the deepest divisions in the organisation is some way away from gaining any real notoriety.
A fight against a top-15 opponent has to be next on the list.